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Women in Translation Month: French suggestions

WITMonth15I’ve seen several posts and tweets about Women In Translation Month organised by BibliobioWhile I’m not fond of positive discrimination, any opportunity for foreigners to discover another country’s literature is fine with me. I’m not going to make a conscious effort to read more women foreign writers this month. In France, we have another approach to translated literature, we don’t see it as a topic worth discussing. Marvelous works of literature are not written in French. Most readers only read in French. Translation is the only means to access to these books. Therefore French readers read books in translation. End of story. I’ve never seen anyone arguing that one should only read francophone literature out of wariness for the translator’s work.

That said, I thought I’d give anglophone readers a list of French women writers who have been translated into English and are worth discovering, in my opinion. Here comes the list:

Novels:

  • The Princess de Clèves by Mme de Lafayette.
  • Indiana by George Sand.
  • The Collected Stories by Colette
  • Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar
  • Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan
  • The Lover by Marguerite Duras
  • All Men are Mortal by Simone de Beauvoir.
  • Suite française by Irène Némirovsky
  • Apocalypse Baby by Virginie Despentes (*)
  • Underground Time by Delphine de Vigan (*)
  • Three Strong Women by Marie NDiaye (*)
  • Héloïse is Bald by Emilie de Turckheim (*)
  • Beside the Sea by Véronique Olmi (*)
  • Sweet Agony by Nancy Huston

Theatre

  • Art by Yasmina Reza

Beach & Public Transports Books

  • Fear and Trembling by Amélie Nothomb
  • Someone I Loved by Anna Gavalda
  • The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol

Crime fiction

  • The Chalk Circle Man: The First Commissaire Adamsberg Mystery by Fred Vargas (*)
  • Lorraine Connection by Dominique Manotti (*)

I hope it’s helpful. The titles followed by (*) have been reviewed here. If you pick any of these books after reading this post, I’ll be happy to hear your thoughts about it. Leave your thoughts or a link to your review in the comment section.

Happy reading!

  1. Azimov
    August 6, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    Synchronicity! I’ve just started reading Bonjour Tristesse & A Certain Smile by Francoise Sagan. What kind of reputation does she have in France, a decade after her death? Is she still read?

    Like

    • August 6, 2015 at 4:22 pm

      Yes she’s still read.
      I think she’s a wonderful writer. Very sensitive to human flaws, emotions and weaknesses. Really subtle and spot on.

      Like

  2. August 6, 2015 at 4:16 pm

    Wonderful list, Emma! I have some of them on my ‘To be read’ list 🙂 I just read ‘Letters from a Peruvian Woman’ by Francoise de Graffigny and it was so wonderful. Without realizing it I had made a start on Women in Translation Month, it looks like 🙂 I just started ‘The Princesse de Clèves’ – there are a lot of characters in it and so I am reading it slowly. Caroline says that it is one of her alltime favourite books. Is it one of your favourites too? If it is okay, I will also recommend Nicole Brossard’s ‘Yesterday, at the Hotel Clarendon’. Brossard’s prose is so gorgeous that it shines even in translation. I recommended it to my French-Canadian friend and he read it in French and he said that it is even more beautiful in French.

    Thanks a lot for your suggestions. I will add all of them to my ‘TBR’ list. I am hoping to read more French literature this year.

    Like

    • August 6, 2015 at 9:18 pm

      Thanks for the two other suggestions, Vishy. I haven’t read them.

      The Princess de Clèves is a masterpiece. Beautiful prose, subtle feelings, thought-provoking attitude of the characters. I hope you’ll review it.

      Like

  3. August 6, 2015 at 6:19 pm

    Ha, I like your beach/transport category – although I have to admit I could not bear to finish the Pancol even so… Amelie Nothomb slightly better, I haven’t tried Gavalda, see lots of her books at the library. Should I?
    Wonderful choice there, many of my own favourites. I’ve been trying and trying to find Heloise est chauve, my local libraries don’t seem to stock it. Would you recommend I buy it?
    As for the comment about translation, coming from a small culture like Romania, whose language is only spoken by 22 million people or so, and from a closed country during Communist times, you can imagine that we were so hungry for translation, for finding out what was going on in the rest of the world, that this 3% translation rate just seems unbelievable to me…

    Like

    • August 6, 2015 at 9:29 pm

      This Pancol is not her best, but it’s available in English. Un homme à distance is better but not translated.
      Gavalda is rather good. Don’t expect brilliant literature but Je voudrais que quelqu’un m’attende quelque part was a good read and Ensemble c’est tout, too.
      I’ve enjoyed Héloïse est chauve. A lot. The plot is original, the characters interesting and I loved her style.

      I know what you mean about this 3% of tranlation rate. It’s unbelievable to me too. Totally out of my frame of reference. This is a discussion I discovered on anglophone blogs. It never occurred to me before that that one could have reservations about reading in translation. It never crossed my mind.
      I understand your point about coming from a language spoken only by 22 million people. French literature is probably wide enough to spend your lifetime exploring it. But our writers used to read translations. You can’t understand what they wrote without reading other literatures. Like Shakespeare, Russian writers…
      It’s like trying to understand French painting without looking at Italian, Dutch or Spanish masters. Impossible.

      And of course, without translation, I’d miss Hungarian lit, a favourite of mine. I’ll never speak Hungarian, so reading it in the original is out of the question.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. August 6, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    Great list – I definitely want to read Beside the Sea as I really like Peirene titles.

    Like

    • August 6, 2015 at 9:30 pm

      It’s a good one. Not to be read when you feel a little blue, though.

      Like

  5. August 6, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    Great recommendations. I should try George Sand at some point as I’m sure I’d like her. Dominque Manotti’s an excellent suggestion for the crime fiction category – I enjoyed her ‘Escape’ very much.

    I’m pleased you mentioned Delphine de Vigan as I’m reading one of her books at the moment: Nothing Holds Back the Night, the fictional account of her mother. Have you read/reviewed it?

    Like

    • August 6, 2015 at 9:34 pm

      I’m not a huge fan of George Sand, the rural stuff bore me. (unless it’s Thomas Hardy) I tried The Mill on the Floss and couldn’t finish it for the same reason.

      I have read and reviewed Nothing Holds Back the Night. Terrific book, a little bit hard sometimes but an excellent narration and I liked how she painted her doubts about what she was doing. I think Guy has reviewed it too.
      I like Delphine de Vigan a lot. Like Virginie Despentes, she doesn’t come from the journalist/teacher/academic world and you can feel it in their books. They have another vision of the country, of the society.

      Like

      • August 7, 2015 at 9:06 am

        I’ll put Sand on the back burner, which is no bad thing as I’ve got more than enough writers on my wishlist as it is! Glad you liked Nothing Hold Back the Night as I’m finding it very compelling. I’ll hold off from reading your review until I’ve written mine but will link back to yours (and Guy’s if he’s posted on it, too).

        Like

        • August 8, 2015 at 9:25 pm

          Compelling is the right adjective for this book by De Vigan. I’m looking forward to reading your review.

          Like

  6. August 6, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    Great point about the french view to translation know german view is much the same only seems to be an issue to English readers which is a shame as we get to see so little of what else is out there

    Like

    • August 6, 2015 at 9:40 pm

      I know, Stu, it’s such a shame.

      I try not to be judgmental but I can’t help wondering if it comes from a disdain or disinterest for other cultures politely hidden behind the excuse of “the translation with alter my experience with the true prose of the writer”.

      For me, this excuse is pure bullshit because a great part of what we gain in reading doesn’t come from the style but from the ideas put together in the book: thoughts about life, about being human, description of human qualities and flaws, analysis of a context, a society, etc…So yes, some things will be lost in translation (especially in poetry) but everything that is still transmitted by the translation is more than worth the time spent on the book.

      Like

      • August 7, 2015 at 5:14 pm

        Just wanted to add one more thing, Emma. During my reading of French literature, I discovered that French women writers have been writing for nearly a thousand years. There is Marie de France who wrote in the 12th century, much before the first ever works in English were written. There is Marguerite de Navarre (author of ‘The Heptameron’) who wrote much before Aphra Behn (who is one of the first women writers in English). Just saying 🙂 Yay to French women writers 🙂

        Like

        • August 8, 2015 at 9:38 pm

          I’m afraid these writers aren’t much read beyond specialized literature classes, Vishy. But yay to them anyway 🙂

          Like

  7. August 6, 2015 at 10:56 pm

    You’ve given me the nudge I needed to explore Amélie Nothomb. She was recommended to me by a Belgian colleague but didnt specify any particular title. Fear and Trembling is now on order..

    Like

    • August 8, 2015 at 9:21 pm

      I liked it. I like her, actually. She has a quirky mind and she always invents odd characters. Fear and Trembling is based upon her own experience, though.

      Like

      • August 9, 2015 at 10:36 am

        Good to know Emma. I shall look forward to this one

        Like

  8. August 7, 2015 at 9:30 am

    Thank you for this list Emma.

    I am always looking for reference source like this.

    I really should get to at least a couple of these authors sometimes in the near future.

    Like

    • August 8, 2015 at 9:26 pm

      Brian, I think you’d like Memoirs of Hadrian. It seems like something you’d enjoy.

      Like

  9. August 7, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    Great list. I’d probably pick The Princess de Clèves just to spite Nicolas Sarkozy for his having been so anti-intellectual and dismissive about it.

    Like

    • August 8, 2015 at 9:31 pm

      Thanks Scott. There aren’t so many famous French women writers before 1900.

      The Princess de Clèves is a book I want to reread. I’ve read it when I was a teenager and like The Age of Innocence, it’s good to read it when you’re older.

      PS: I doubt NS is as inculte as he wants us to believe. In his generation, you don’t get to be a lawyer without a solid culture. I think it’s all an act to try to catch votes from the working class.

      Like

  10. Olga
    August 7, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    Hi Emma – I was always curious about how George Sand is perceived in France. Do you study her works at school? Is she widely read?

    I read Consuelo in my early teens, influenced by my girlfriends who were crazy about the book. My parents were not too impressed and tried to steer me gently in the direction of “other great French writers” 🙂

    I share your enthusiasm about Virginie Despentes, and having read your reviews, I would like to try Emilie de Turckheim and Delphine de Vigan.

    Like

    • August 8, 2015 at 9:45 pm

      Hi Olga
      I’ve never read George Sand in school and I don’t remember any friend reading her in school either. But I didn’t study literature after high school. She’s certainly read at university.

      I read La petite Fadette and La mare au diable when I was a teenager and I was bored. I think she was a remarkable woman for her way of life and her feminism. Her novels don’t attract me too much and the fact that I had the same reaction to George Eliot doesn’t push me to try George Sand again. (She was a great admirer of George Eliot’s)

      I couldn’t finish Vernon Subutex but the book is good, no doubt. I really recommend Delphine de Vigan and Emilie de Turckheim. They’re very different but both good writers. (and original)

      Like

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